Yesterday, the environmental organization Greenpeace unveiled its art installation called Skull of Satoshi, which was created by artist Benjamin Von Wong to raise awareness of the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining.
The press release states that the electronic waste used for the 11-feet installation, donated by Canadian recycling company Uni-Recycle, represents "the millions of computers used to validate Bitcoin transactions," while the smoking stacks on the skull are a symbol of "the fossil fuel and coal pollution generated by Bitcoin mining."
"Coal-fired power plants are being revived and kept alive by the growing electricity demands of Bitcoin mining. This is a horrifying development given the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels to prevent a climate catastrophe," Greenpeace campaigner Rolf Skar said, explaining that the "skull design serves as a powerful symbol urging financial institutions to use their influence to advocate for a code change that could reduce Bitcoin's electricity usage by a whopping 99%."
Skar emphasized that the world "cannot afford to expand our reliance on fossil fuels any further," and urged the Bitcoin community to "take action and change their code - not the climate," referring specifically to financial firms investing in Bitcoin that can’t ignore its climate impact. The goal of Greenpeace is to convince Bitcoin developers to change the consensus mechanism to a proof-of-stake model.
Skull's creator Wong hopes the art will be able to "spark conversations and inspire change."
Judging by the reaction of the Twitter community, the Greenpeace campaign has outraged Bitcoin activists. However, most of them actually found Wong's installation impressive. Many Bitcoin users agreed that the artwork is "badass" and "metal." Will Foxley, the media strategy director at crypto miner Compass Mining, even used Satoshi's skull as a Twitter profile picture.
Due to the controversies, misunderstandings, and misinformation surrounding bitcoin mining, as well as the current environmental issues, it seems too difficult for both parties to the conflict to agree on a common approach to solving the problem.
While Bitcoin mining does indeed consume a lot of energy, there is a point in user Ty Kelley's tweet: "Doesn't bitcoin only use around 0.1% of the global energy? What about the evidence that roughly 69% of the energy used mining bitcoin comes from renewables? What about the more than 72,000 bank branches that exist in the United States alone? What about the energy the legacy system uses?"
"I think securing money for millions of people like miners do is more valuable to humanity than the energy used for distilleries, breweries, computer porn, social media and casinos, but I don't get to decide and neither do you!" Twitter user BranonBtc responded to the tweet from Greenpeace mentioned earlier.
It is virtually impossible to find industries that do not require electricity, while the practical value of many of them is highly questionable. Looking at the overproduction and overconsumption of goods in the modern world, it is clear that many other sectors require immediate changes for the sake of ecological preservation.
At the same time, it is understandable that people passionate about saving the planet tend to focus on the downsides of Bitcoin and overlook the attempts of the mining businesses to switch to renewable energy. For example, TeraWulf's Lake Mariner mining facility in New York uses hydroelectric and solar power.
Still, there is a common misconception among Bitcoiners that nuclear power, which is also a popular source of electricity used for mining, is an environmentally clean solution. In addition to the risk of devastating effects from disasters that can affect nuclear power plants, there is an acute problem with the disposal of nuclear waste, which is itself highly radioactive. The US Energy Information Administration in its 2022 educational post on nuclear energy explained the challenges of nuclear waste storage and stated that, at press time, there were no permanent repositories for highly radioactive waste.
A more constructive dialogue between eco-activists and the crypto-mining community could emerge after recognizing the common goal of preserving nature and switching to sustainable energy resources as well as acknowledging the steps each side is taking in that direction.